Saving life and limb; 325th CES EOD

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stefan Alvarez
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Explosive Ordnance Disposal is one of the most dangerous jobs in the military. As technology advances, so do the explosives used to fight wars. This means that the experts have to stay one step ahead.

Staff Sgt. Norman Parks, 325th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, is at the tip of the spear when it comes to making these advances to keep EOD Airmen across the Air Force safe while performing their jobs.

“I started 3D printing stuff about 4 years ago when I was stationed at Kirtland making small stuff for base ops and that’s how we started ‘crawling’,” said Parks. “One of our bigger successes right now that’s being pushed out to the entire career field is a mount for our percussion actuated neutralizer, basically a water cannon. It had no place for the detonator so people were taping it to the legs or jury-rigging something quick which is not ideal for us.”

After lessons learned from previous conflicts, the nature of munitions that the Department of Defense deploys is different than they were years ago.

“Improvised explosive devices are made from what’s called sensitive high explosives,” explained Parks. “That’s what you typically see bomb makers using for booby traps, roadside bombs and things like that. Insensitive munitions are a step toward creating a safer ordnance item that’s harder to set off.”

The creation of IHE ordnance means EOD technicians taking a new approach to disabling and disposing of these new types of explosives.

“We had an incident in Kuwait where an EOD tech tried blowing up an IHE and ended up taking shrapnel to the leg,” Parks said. “We decided to try and eliminate one of the points of failure by 3D printing a template for bricks of [C4 plastic explosives]. This has pre-measured holes and can stack with more bricks with the intent that it should greatly reduce the chance of human error in prepping the charges.”

Although the Air Force encourages its Airmen to come up with innovative ideas to help make their jobs safer and easier, Airmen have to take charge and make it happen when they can.

“Everything we learn for 3D printing is on our own time,” Parks said. “It really depends on the member if they want to learn how to do the computer aided drafting in addition to their normal duties. It’s a lot of learning and commitment but it’s worth the investment since paying someone else to do it can be thousands of dollars.”

3D printing not only helps protect Airmen but has the potential to save the Air Force money.

“We have these that we print out here called cylindrical dynamic access tools,” said Parks. “We can buy these from a lab by [Kirtland AFB] for about $200 for each kit or print one out here for $15. For a flight of 26 members, we’re saving roughly $4000 which can go a long way for some units.”

Parks’ creativity and hard work ensured that he and his unit had the capabilities and equipment needed to pursue 3D printing and benefitting their career field.

“To get everything we needed I had to go to the spark tank that the Mission Support Group here put on,” Parks said. “I put together a presentation and made my case to the group and ultimately got selected to receive funds for our 3D printer and a climate control system for the printer polymer to battle Florida’s humidity. None of this would have been possible if we didn’t come together and advocate for the change we wanted to see.”